A group of Senators have sent letters to the largest smartphone manufacturers demanding the removal of applications that alert drivers of DUI checkpoints. And Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian company that produces the Blackberry, was the first to comply.
The letter (available after the jump) sent by Senators Harry Reid, (D-NV), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Tom Udall (D-NM) landed in the inboxes of Scott Forstall, Apple's Senior VP of iPhone Software, as well as Eric Schmidt, current head of Google and a senior executive at RIM. And the reason behind the removal was clear.
Nearly a third of all vehicle fatalities in the U.S. involve a DUI or DWI, and several apps available through the Apple App Store, Android Market and RIM's AppWorld alerts users of upcoming checkpoints, be it through crowd-sourced or using a pre-programmed and constantly updating database. The biggest culprit, according to the Senators, is PhantomALERT, which touts itself as "the world's largest driver generated and verified database of speed traps, red light cameras, speed cameras, school zones, DUI checkpoints, dangerous intersections and more across North America."
Neither Apple or Google – the crew behind the open-source Android mobile OS – have responded at this time, but with RIM already pulling the plug, there's a good possibility – particularly given Apple's tight control of apps – that each company could follow suit.
While the rationale behind the proposed removal is obvious, inevitably the debate about how apps play into freedom of speech and the broad brush in which other apps – like Trapster – have been caught up in the mix means a quick resolution is far off.
[Source: Senator's offices, Detroit News, RIM]
Mr. Scott Forstall
Senior Vice President, iPhone Software
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
Dear Mr. Forstall,
We write today with grave concern regarding the ease with which downloadable applications for the iPhone, iPad, and other Apple products allow customers to identify where local police officers have set up DUI checkpoints. With more than 10,000 Americans dying in drunk-driving crashes every year, providing access to iPhone and iPad applications that alert users to DUI checkpoints is harmful to public safety.
We know that your company shares our desire to end the scourge of drunk driving and we therefore would ask you to remove these applications from your store.
One application, your company acknowledges in the product description, contains a database of DUI checkpoints updated in real-time. Another application, with more than 10 million users, also allows users to alert each other to DUI checkpoints in real time.
Police officers from across the country have voiced concern about these products, with one police captain saying, "If people are going to use those, what other purpose are they going to use them for except to drink and drive?" With a person dying every 50 minutes in a drunk-driving crash, this technology should not be promoted to your customers--in fact, it shouldn't even be available.
We appreciate the technology that has allowed millions of Americans to have information at their fingertips, but giving drunk drivers a free tool to evade checkpoints, putting innocent families and children at risk, is a matter of public concern. We hope that you will give our request to remove these applications from your store immediate consideration.
Thank you for your prompt and careful consideration of this matter. Should you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact our offices.